Friday, July 11, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee
Rated: 5 Stars!!!!!!
Audio book
Narrated by: Sissy Spacek

This book was a re-read for me.  I read it several years ago and like most of the rest of the world I loved it.  I have been checking from to to time to see if audible had added it to their catalog and finally it showed up.

I purchased it the day it became available and immediately listened to it straight through and it was magic.  Sissy Spacek's narration is pure genius.  It transforms what was already one of the best books I had ever read and manages to add even more dimensions to it.  I grew up in small towns in the South and was a little girl very much like Scout.  I was transported straight back into my childhood.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.




Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Falling Snow

By: Mary Rose MacColl

Rated: 5 Stars
Audiobook

This month marks the 100th anniversary of World War One, also known as The Great War. The early 20th century is my favorite period of history and some very notable books have been set in this time period. This book is probably going on my list of best reads in 2014. 

Falling Snow is a beautifully written book that focusses on the lives of some very strong women, both in the past and the present. It's also a very poignant book as there was nothing about that war that wasn't sad. But it is also a very uplifting book about accomplishments, love, secrets, sorrows and survival both in the past and the present.

My only quibble with the book is that it switched back and forth between the past and the future. That's always a problem with me but if the book is good enough I don't groan too loud.

Publisher's Summary
A best-selling Australian writer's American debut and a heart-wrenching novel of World War I.
Iris Crane's tranquil life is shattered when a letter summons memories from her bittersweet past: her first love, her best friend, and the tragedy that changed everything. Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her 15-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women - a decision that will change her life.
Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris' granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War

By Jacqueline Winspeare
Rated 3 1/3 Stars
Audiobook

This book didn't work nearly as well for me as Winspeare's Masie Dobbs series does.   It was OK I guess but sadly I found it very predictable. I would not recommend it unless you knew nothing about that era and wanted the history lesson.  As always Winspeare does a great job with the atmosphere of that time but there is really nothing driving this book as far as story. I knew in the first chapter how it was going to end.

What I did enjoy about the book was her portrait of life on a small Kentish farm.  I also enjoyed the way Kezia, the wife who ran the farm and kept the home fires burning while her husband went off to war.  She painted lovely word pictures in her letters to him of imaginary meals that she was cooking for them as if he was there with her.  I thought that was a lovely  way to convey a feeling of comfort and a connection to home.  I thought that was cleverly done by the author although the recipes did wander out into left field from time to time.

I did not care for the ending. It ended too abruptly.  I know that Happy Ever Afters were thin on the ground at the end of WW1 but I'm not a reader who needs stark reality all the time.  A little fantasy can be a good thing sometimes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hong Kong


By Jan Morris
Rated: 3 Stars
Audiobook

I am a big fan of travel books and if this were 1995 and if I was planning to travel to Hong Kong I would have found this book invaluable.  It's an interesting and well written snap shot of Hong Kong during the 1980's with a brief mentions here and there of what happened in the past as background information for what is happening at the present.  All from a British POV.  But as reader looking for a comprehensive history of Hong Kong this book falls short.   

To be fair my negative opinions are very likely to be the result of my expectations. I recently finished Sarum by Edward Rutherford and have Russka on my TBR pile and I'm probably spoiled by books that practically take one back to the big bang. 

What this book does is give to give the reader a sense of what colonial Hong Kong was like for the British which is almost exactly what it was like for the British in India.  They created their own self absorbed little bubble and life outside that bubble only existed as it related to them. Interesting but no surprises for the reader there. 

Where this book falls sadly short is examine the part the Chinese played.  The Chinese made up 96% of the population, but are described repeatedly as a mysterious, superstitious mass.  Energetic and hard working but whose motives and culture were unfathomable to the westerner.

When I finished this book I had more questions than I had when I began and I'm off to find a real history of Hong Kong.  One that includes the years after 1997 to now.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

31. The Boy's in the Boat






By: Daniel James Brown
Rated 5 Stars
Audible

This is one of the two really outstanding non fiction books I read recently.  I come from generations of farmers and I grew up listening to "how bad things were during the Depression"  But this is a book about more than just a story about overcoming hard times but about what we are made of and what we can accomplish if we really make up our minds to do it.

Publisher's Summary

For readers of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.
The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together - a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.
Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times - the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.

America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction

By:  John Steinbeck
Rated 5 Stars
Audible

I haven't read many books lately but the few I had have been very enjoyable.  I have been diligently working on my quilt and listening while I read.

I bought America and Americans because 1) I like John Steinbeck's writing, 2) I wasn't aware he had written any  non-fiction, 3) it was written in an era that particularly interests me and 4) there are a bunch of snobby reviews on amazon about it that infer it would be over the head of any but the most  discerning readers.  

I am probably one of the most non discerning of readers but could never resist a challenge.  Beside Steinbeck was writing about my "times."  I miss the America I grew up in. 

The country and our society have changed dramatically in the years since the date it was published that it probably really does feel dated some young readers but for me it provides a picture of the times when I was young, and tells of the values of the time that I grew up in. Not all of them were laudable but at least I did not feel like an alien which I often do now days.  Every once in a while I look at my little black dog and remind him "Hobbs, we're definitely not in America any more."


Publisher's Summary

More than three decades after his death, John Steinbeck remains one of the nation's most beloved authors. Yet few know of his career as a journalist who covered world events from the Great Depression to Vietnam. Now, this original collection offers a portrait of the artist as citizen, deeply engaged in the world around him. In addition to the complete text of Steinbeck's last published book, America and Americans, this volume brings together for the first time more than 50 of Steinbeck's finest essays and jouralistic pieces.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

34. The Mine

By:  John A. Heldt
Rated 4 stars
Kindle

I enjoy time travel books.  I also enjoy a well written romance novel.  Happily this is both. 

I liked the fact that he only transported his character back to 1941, an era which I am at least familiar with as I was 6 years old in that year.  My memories of what life was like in 1941 are a tad bit fuzzy and are from the pov of a child but there was a good bit that came across as familiar to me. Right off I had a kind of coming back to a familiar place. I realize this makes me a little unique among readers. 


I also liked that the main character did not blunder around but recognized immediately what had happened to him and immediately set about figuring out how to cope with his drastic change of circumstances.

None of the characters are larger than life.  Well maybe Joel was a tad bit too resourceful but he was a man in a very tricky situation so I forgave him.  All of the characters felt real and were likable.  In other words these were all people that you felt could easily been real and furthermore were people I would have liked.  

And lastly I found it refreshing that the author did not introduce a villain to add tension to the story but let the story create it's own tension.  There were a couple of baddies but they were strictly background and only served to set the story in motion and then they faded away.

Publishers Description:

In 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can't use, money he can't spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever. THE MINE follows a humbled man through a critical time in history as he adjusts to new surroundings and wrestles with the knowledge of things to come.

Friday, July 5, 2013

33. Where She Went

By:  Gayle Foreman
Rated 3 srars
Audiobook

I purchased this audiobook the minute I saw it was out and available on audio. It is a sequel to "If I Stay" and I am sorry to have to say that I was disappointed with it.  I loved "If I Stay" but this one just didn't have the charm and poignancy the first book had.  It felt flat - especially when compared to it predecessor.  Still I'm glad I bought it because I really wanted to know "Where She Went."

 Publisher's Summary:

 It's been three years since the devastating accident... three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever. Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is L.A. tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock-star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future - and each other Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I StayWhere She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

32. Shadows of the Titanic


The Extraordinary Stories of those Who Survived

By"  Andrew Wilson
Rated 2 Stars
Audio Book

The book is a non-fictional account of the lives of a selected group of the survivors.  All of them very deeply effected by the experience, some of them so much that it changed the entire course of their lives.  A few were unable to cope and committed suicide. Some of them did not leave notes.  The author described the dying thoughts and actions of several people as if he had been there and was privy to their last thoughts.  This really bothered me.  It bothered me a lot.  I felt like the author was being disrespectful  to the people he was writing about.  These were real people!  He didn't even write any kind of disclaimer that explained why he decided he had the right to co-opt their last minutes. And then as a result of that I had another issue.   How much credence can you give to anything in the book once you feel the author did at least part of his research in thin air.

I did finish this book and had it not been for that I would have rated it at least four stars. It was well written and the subject of the book was interesting to me.  I just couldn't get past that author presumed to write about dying peoples last thoughts and actions in a way that he could not possibly have known about.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

27. Monkeewrench

By P. J. Tracy.  
Rated 4.5
Kindle

My Granddaughter Nicky highly recommended this book to me.I was a little leery of it as she tends to read things like Patricia Cornwall books with lots of gore in them.  She isn't bothered by gore as her job exposes her to lots of it while I'm more the cosy mystery type reader.  But this book is kind of between the two types.  Some violence but not too much. :)  And a right out of the blue ending.  I love mysteries that keep you hanging until the very last page.

Publisher Description:

People are dying for the new computer game by the software company Monkeewrench. Literally. With Serial Killer Detective out in limited release, the real-life murders of a jogger and a young woman have already mimicked the first two scenarios in the game.

But Grace McBride and her eccentric Monkeewrench partners are caught in a vise. If they tell the Minneapolis police of the link between their game and the murders, they'll shine a spotlight on the past they thought they had erased-and the horror they thought they'd left behind. If they don't, eighteen more people will die...

Friday, May 24, 2013

28. George VI

By Denis Judd
Rated: 4.5
Kindle

I hated to pay the kindle price for this book but finally broke down and bought it anyway.  It was very well written and it completes my close look at Britain during WW2 and the post war years I've had going for a while.

Publishers Description:

George VI was the man not born to be king. He nonetheless rescued the British monarchy in the aftermath of the abdication crisis and cemented its prestige with his well-judged performance during World War II and the Blitz. In this acclaimed biography, Denis Judd tells the story of Prince Bertie’s transformation into King George VI including his struggle with a crippling shyness and sense of inadequacy, exacerbated by the stammer which was the focus of the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech. His marriage to the self-assured and supportiveElizabeth Bowes-Lyons and his unexpected accession to the throne in 1936 changed the direction of the young prince’s life for good. Once on the throne, it was he who bore the weighty responsibility for restoring the nation’s confidence in their monarchy following his elder brother’s abdication, and for maintaining morale during the darkest days of World War II, when, together with Winston Churchill, his dignified presence functioned as a beacon of reassurance to civilians and military alike. Denis Judd provides a fascinating, if sometimescontroversial, reassessment of the man who, quite unexpectedly, came to occupy an extraordinary position in a time of unprecedented change.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

29. Columbine

By:  Dave Cullen
Rated:  4 Stars
Kindle

The best part of the book was how the community managed to take back their school and put the tragic events behind them and create a normal, positive high school experience for the students in the future.  Of course I knew that perfectly well having "watched" so to speak a friend's kid's have just that.  A normal, positive and excellent  high school experience there.


Book Description:

On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma-City style, and to leave "a lasting impression on the world." Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence-irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting "another Columbine."


When we think of Columbine, we think of the Trench Coat Mafia; we think of Cassie Bernall, the girl we thought professed her faith before she was shot; and we think of the boy pulling himself out of a school window -- the whole world was watching him. Now, in a riveting piece of journalism nearly ten years in the making, comes the story none of us knew. In this revelatory book, Dave Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris, and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal. 


The result is an astonishing account of two good students with lots of friends, who came to stockpile a basement cache of weapons, to record their raging hatred, and to manipulate every adult who got in their way. They left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boy's tapes and diaries, he gives the first complete account of the Columbine tragedy.